I'm not a writer who holds with the "I can't read while I'm writing" theory of creativity. I've read quotes from people who say they avoid reading while writing in order to avoid plagiarism. That's certainly a worthy goal. But I think it's possible to read for inspiration and technique and still avoid plagiarism altogether.
Besides, I'm a slow writer, and the thought of not reading during an extended period of writing--nope. Makes me break out in hives, just thinking about it.
Once I found out about the grant, I put some thought into what books I might want to read during this year of the grant. I came up with three categories of books to include: Handbooks on writing, novels set in small towns, and novels-in-stories. The latter is the format of the book I'm writing, and I have read many in that category that aren't that great; sometimes the connections between characters are too tenuous or too strained, or some of the stories feel like filler. But when this format is used to its best advantage, it can be astoundingly good.
So here are the books that I'm making it a priority to read in 2018, and the earlier in 2018, the better.
Let's start from the top.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This is a seriously kick-ass book. He doesn't assure the reader that they'll be successful, but he gives quick and dirty advice for overcoming Resistance. I've read this book several times and always get something out of it with each read.
"The Making of a Story" by Alice LaPlante. I've read this once before, and was almost overwhelmed at the amount of good advice in it. I may not read the whole thing, but hone in on chapters that are specifically relevant to my project.
The Modern Library Writer's Workshop, edited by Stephen Koch. Another writer friend posted a question on Facebook, asking what writing instruction books others recommend. A no-less-esteemed personage than Marlon James responded with this one. I look forward to digging in.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. This is so good. SO GOOD. I've read it multiple times, but this time, I'll read it with an eye to: How did she make the various characters and story lines work?
The Art of Perspective: Who Tells the Story by Christopher Castellani and The Art of Daring: Risk, Restless, Imagination by Carl Phillips. Graywolf Press' The Art of series has been stellar, so I look forward to digging into these two.
Deep Writing by Eric Maisel. I read this long ago and remember it being very valuable, so it seems like a good time for a revisit.
Deep Work by Cal Newport. Because who can't use some advice on avoiding distraction and getting into that deep work mode?
Baker Towers and News from Heaven, both by Jennifer Haigh. The first book I finished reading in 2018 was Haigh's Heat & Light, and it knocked me out. Not really a novel-in-stories, but with a large cast of characters that she handled most expertly. I understand these two stand-alone novels are set in the same small fictional town of Bakerton, PA.
Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas. I've never read this classic play, but given its setting, it seemed an appropriate choice.
Alone with All That Could Happen by David Jauss. I've heard really good things about this writing manual.
The Miracle Worker by William Gibson. One of the stories in my collection centers on a small-town summer theater group putting on this classic play, so I will likely reread it more than once.
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. If you haven't read it, this is an unusual, unsettling novel in which very little happens (other than one major plot point that opens the book). But its portrayal of many years in the life of a small town is well worth exploring.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. The gold standard of novels-in-stories, IMHO. I'm so looking forward to returning to this one, in part to look at how she structured the book, but also how she ended up creating someone simultaneously hateful and heartbreaking. Also, I once had the pleasure of taking a weekend writing workshop from Strout at the University of Iowa, and it was wonderful.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I had to be talked into reading this book by a good friend who knows me well. I thought it sounded a bit woo-woo. And it is. But I loved it. It has a tremendous amount of joy and energy, and who can't use that when tackling a large writing project?
Not shown in the photo because it's out on loan to a friend is Anthony Marra's The Tsar of Love and Techno, another gem of a novel-in-stories.
What am I missing? Any other suggestions in these categories?